Archive for the ‘Rock n Roll Music 1960 Part 1’ Category

by Robert Seoane

 

THE SIXTIES

The Sixties was the decade with the most profound cultural upheaval of the 20th century, primarily because the children who grew up during those years, the so-called Baby Boomer Generation, were bored. Born between 1946 through 1964, the offspring of all those soldiers who came home after World War II were given a gift that no other prior generation truly had; they got everything they asked for.

The first turning point of the decade for the United States came on November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The event left a vacuum in the morale and security of American society, particularly young America who had grown up in a bubble. The second turning point came on February 9, 1964 when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. During that moment, just ten weeks after the death of the country’s young leader, a new window of hope opened and the future rushed in.

Once the Beatles revitalized rock ‘n’ roll with their totally new sound, young America welcomed European culture to infiltrate their tastes and mores. As a result, music wasn’t the only art that got a sorely needed shot in the arm when the two cultures melded; movie content became more permissive, women’s skirts got shorter and men’s hair got longer.

“The Sixties was a good period, and in Europe at least it had a lot to do with the fact that we were the generation that hadn’t been in a war. We’d been born during the Second World War and as we grew up we became sick of hearing about it.” – George Harrison; Beatles Anthology

The United States during the Sixties was comprised mostly of a large, white, comfortable middle class. Almost everyone owned a house, a car or two, a TV set, a hi-fi and a telephone in every room. To afford all these modern creature comforts, only the patriarch of the family had to work.

But these material status symbols were taken for granted by the baby boomer kids simply because, unlike their parents, they’ve had it their entire lives and didn’t have a clue what it was like to go hungry. So they questioned everything, particularly after Kennedy and then even more once the Vietnam War started drafting their own. They saw their parents’ fight, work like dogs to buy things, grow old, then die. And as the Sixties wore on, death and assassination were becoming commonplace. The baby boomers, coddled in a troubled but affluent society, had the luxury of time to dream. They weren’t sure what they wanted, but after growing up, both enjoying the fruits of their parents’ hard-earned labor and suffering their mistakes as well, they sure as hell knew what they didn’t want.

Mr. Braddock: What’s the matter? The guests are all downstairs, Ben, waiting to see you.
Benjamin: Look, Dad, could you explain to them that I have to be alone for a while?
Mr. Braddock: These are all our good friends, Ben. Most of them have known you since, well, practically since you were born. What is it, Ben?
Benjamin: I’m just…
Mr. Braddock: Worried?
Benjamin: Well…
Mr. Braddock: About what?
Benjamin: I guess about my future.
Mr. Braddock: What about it?
Benjamin: I don’t know… I want it to be…
Mr. Braddock: To be what?
Benjamin: [looks at his father] … Different.
“The Graduate” (1967) – Opening conversation between Dustin Hoffman and Jeff Daniels

Music wasn’t the only element that veered considerably from the status quo in the Sixties, although many names from the decade still ring big in 2015 …The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Jim Morrison, James Brown, Stevie Wonder… It seemed that almost every field had their moment of profound change between 1960 and 1969. In politics and civil rights… John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, Fidel Castro, Cesar Chavez … in art… Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Peter Max …literature… Truman Capote, Ken Kesey, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe …cinema… Stanley Kubrick, Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Hopper, Sam Peckinpah …fashion… Mary Quant’s mini-skirt, the British Mods, Twiggy… the sky opened up in the Sixties as we ventured into outer space …Sam Shepard, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong… even in the world of sports, certain athletes and coaches set trends and cast long shadows …Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali), Vince Lombardi, Joe Namath, Sandy Koufax, Wilt Chamberlain… These figures either polarized or inspired, sometimes polarized and inspired. They either started or were a large part of a socio-political revolution that still reverberates today. No other decade in the 20th Century produced as many human beings who pointed to so many new directions at the same time.

So in 1960, the decade came in like a lamb, but the distant rumbling of the events that were about to ensue during the first few years of its trajectory would culminate on a sunny day in 1963 in Dallas, Texas. That day, six shots were fired that not only ended a life but caused a paradigm shift that was felt around the world. In the United States, it stripped Americans of their naïve belief of being above strife in the homeland and forced them to realize that there was something very, very wrong woven into the fabric of American society.

****************

1960

1960 began innocuously enough. It was an election year, the country was not at war, everyone “knew their place”, ethnicities were duly segregated, rock ‘n’ roll music had been toned down and was no longer threatening anyone, movies were acceptable for the whole family, fashion was demure, men’s haircuts were trim and women were in the kitchen “where they belonged”.

There were, however, a few rumblings of social upheaval that didn’t go unnoticed in 1960. On January 2, Democratic U.S. Senator from Massachusetts John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for President of the United States. On March 6, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sends 3,500 troops to Viet Nam. On May 9, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves birth control via an oral contraceptive that became known as “The Pill”. On August 6, Fidel Castro takes control of all American and foreign-owned property in Cuba. On November 15, the first nuclear-armed missile, called Polaris, is test launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. On December 2, President Eisenhower authorizes one million dollars (almost eight million in 2015 dollars) to assist in the resettlement of Cuban refugees pouring into Miami, Florida, and on December 12, the United States Supreme Court deems Louisiana’s racial segregation unconstitutional.

But one month earlier, on November 8, an indication that America was on a bright new path, choosing a man young enough to have been born in the current century, John F. Kennedy is elected President of the United States, beating Republican candidate Richard Nixon by 112,827 votes. Dashing and blessed with the power of great oratory, JFK was the Elvis of the political world. Colorful pictures in all the national magazines like Time, Life, Look, and Newsweek all featured the young President’s beautiful, brilliant wife Jackie and sweet children Caroline and John, Jr., turning them into America’s beloved Royal Family. JFK was the second youngest President after Theodore Roosevelt and for the first time in American history, America’s youth felt represented. Nobody could have ever guessed in 1960 what would occur within its ten difficult, tragic, joyful, groundbreaking, trendsetting, heartbreaking, bloody, exploratory years.

***********************

THE SLOW, TRAGIC DESCENT OF ELVIS PRESLEY

“That’s what kills people like Presley and others of that ilk. The king is always killed by his courtiers, not by his enemies. The king is over-fed, over-drugged, over-indulged, anything to keep the king tied to his throne.” –John Lennon; Beatles Anthology

Elvis left the Army and along with it, his fourteen-year-old girlfriend Priscilla when he boarded the plane to Fort Dix, New Jersey from Germany. He would, however, keep in contact with her by telephone for the next fifteen months. But once back home, Elvis immediately resumed his relationship with his girlfriend since 1957, Anita Wood, while in the meantime over the next few years he would also be dating every known starlet in the world.

The 24-year-old King of Rock ‘n’ Roll had returned to claim his throne, and on March 2nd, 1960, the train route from New Jersey to Tennessee was lined with thousands of Elvis fans. Elvis’ train made intermittent stops along the way to please his adoring minions with brief appearances to wave hello at everyone. Elvis needn’t have worried that the world would forget him, and his image was now made even greater due to the hoopla of his entire Army stint and subsequent return, a brilliant feat of promotion courtesy of manager Col. Tom Parker that would have the effect of toning him down considerably as he spent year after year making silly musical comedies.

But in 1960, all was well in Elvis-land.

He looked better than ever and the musical world was looking forward to his new output of music. Not a single soul, not even Elvis himself, could tell that the Elvis that had entered the Army in 1958, was not the same Elvis of 1960. The only visible change was his lack of sideburns due to the Army’s code of short hair. The other change was more of a career adjustment that would greatly affect his musical output over most of the decade. He informed the public that he wanted to pursue a film career along with his musical one. Soon, as the years progressed, making movies would eclipse his desire to record good songs. Elvis too was unhappy with the quality of the songwriting he was receiving to record for these movies. Despite that, in 1960, the old Elvis continued to shine through in some of his songs.

STUCK ON YOU – ELVIS PRESLEY

“Stuck On You” was released on March 23rd, 1960, three days after it was recorded to satisfy the 1.4 million advanced orders it received as Elvis’ newest single. Its ascension into Billboard’s Number One spot was incredibly symbolic in that it declared that not only the King but that rock ‘n’ roll itself was back on top, because it toppled the previous Number One, a totally non-rock ‘n’ roll instrumental that held on to the Number One position for nine weeks, a movie song titled “The Theme From A Summer Place” by Percy Faith and His Orchestra. The film had showcased young stars Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee in a lame attempt to appeal to the teenage market. Move over, Mom and Dad.

Elvis sang this classic rock ‘n’ roll song on television for the first time on a May 12 ABC television special called “Welcome Home, Elvis”, filmed in Miami and hosted by every parents’ favorite recording star, Frank Sinatra. The two generations were meeting, and although the Establishment allowed Elvis to sport his trademark pompadour hair and do some of his mad dance gyrations to the delight of his screaming fans, they dressed him up in a tuxedo. No more gold lamé outfits. No more rock star wardrobe. It looked like Elvis, sounded like Elvis and swiveled like Elvis, but there was something weird about seeing the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll move around in a penguin suit.

“You can shake an apple off an apple tree, shake, shake sugar but you’ll never shake me, uh uh uh no sir-ee, uh, uh, I’m gonna stick like glue, stick because I’m stuck on you.” – “Stuck On You” Elvis Presley

ELVIS IS BACK! – ELVIS PRESLEY

Armed with state-of-the-art recording equipment, Elvis recorded his eighth studio album in Nashville, Tennessee between March 20-21 and April 3-4 of 1960. Titled “Elvis Is Back!” it was speedily released upon its completion on April 8 and was the first Presley album released in stereophonic sound, although mono versions were also available. The album stopped short at Number Two in Billboard’s Top Album’s chart but reached the Number one position in the UK, receiving mixed reviews.

“Presley obviously finds it hard to record his old gusto … Perhaps [the recordings] are the first attempts to master new styles”. – Hi-Fidelity Magazine

“Presley’s voice was still strong and clear. He could belt out the blues one minute … and then sound sophisticated the next … without changing character.” -Steve Horowitz; Popmatters

“(Elvis Is Back!) shows a mature Elvis Presley [who] displayed the rich, deep vocalizing that would challenge critics’ expectations of Elvis Presley playing rhythm guitar throughout”. –Bruce Eder; Allmusic

Indeed, “Elvis Is Back!” had its moments, but not many.

MAKE ME KNOW IT – ELVIS PRESLEY

Joined by his background vocalists of his Fifties output The Jordanaires, the first track on the album was a derivative song called “Make Me Know It”, written by “Hound Dog” composers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. It sounded like a typical Elvis song, rockin’ and rollin’ with the rockabilly style he made famous, but in the end is really not that great, especially for an album opener.

FEVER – ELVIS PRESLEY

The second song, “Fever” was a much better composition and worthy of the King’s vocal chords. A sultry, sexy tune written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell, Elvis gives it all the justice it deserves, with sparse production that fits the mood just right and a vocal delivery that mimicked the popular interpretation, but was still unmistakably Elvis.

Elvis would include “Fever” as part of his repertoire when he filmed his “Aloha From Hawaii” tour.

“Captain Smith and Pocahontas had a very mad affair. When her daddy tried to kill him, she said ‘Daddy, oh don’t you dare, he give me fever’”… “Fever” – Elvis Presley

“Fever” was originally recorded and released by Little Willie John in 1956, reaching Number 24 on Billboard’s Pop chart, and became Peggy Lee’s signature song when she recorded and released it in 1958. Her version made it to Number Eight on Billboard’s Pop chart and won two Grammys in 1959 for Song Of The Year and Record of the Year, so when Elvis took it on, it had already been a hit twice.


Many other artists recorded “Fever” over the ensuing decades, including James Brown in 1967, The Cramps in 1980, Madonna, released in 1992’s “Erotica” album, Michael Buble’s big band rendition in 2003 and Bette Midler in 2005. Out of all these versions, Madonna’s is the most strikingly different.



THE GIRL OF MY BEST FRIEND – ELVIS PRESLEY

The third track on the album, “The Girl Of My Best Friend”, written by Sam Bobrick and Beverly Ross, is Elvis singing a cute bit of fluff. Originally recorded by Charlie Blackwell in 1959, the tune has a catchy melody but doesn’t compare to any of his pre-Army releases. It did, however, manage to reach Number Nine in the UK singles chart in 1960.


I WILL BE HOME AGAIN – ELVIS PRESLEY

Although the next track “I Will Be Home Again”, a 1945 composition recorded by the Golden Gate Quartet and written by Bennie Benjamin, Raymond Leveen and Lou Singer, fits the theme of his “Elvis Is Back!” album quite nicely, its standard fifties balladry and production makes the listener want to wish he stayed back in Germany. One wonders who was picking these old, creaky tunes for Elvis to sing.

DIRTY, DIRTY FEELING – ELVIS PRESLEY

“Dirty Dirty Feeling” was a brave attempt to bring Elvis back to his controversial roots as evidenced by the title. Written by the classic songwriting duo of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller and filled with sarcastic humor in its lyrics, it was still one of their lesser compositions.

The song was showcased in Elvis’ 1958 movie “King Creole”, filmed right before he entered the Army to satisfy his fans. It didn’t make it to the film’s soundtrack album though, so it was added on to “Elvis Is Back!”

THRILL OF YOUR LOVE – ELVIS PRESLEY

The closing song on Side One, “Thrill Of Your Love”, written by Stan Kesler and released originally in 1958 by Carl McAvoy as “A Woman’s Love”, is not as thrilling as the title suggests, and by the time the tune ends, the listener wonders why Elvis is recording re-treads instead of more recent compositions as he had done in his pre-Army days. The album was the first of its kind to package Elvis as a pop star, not a rock ‘n’ roll star, and one wonders if some of these songs were selected just because they were readily available.

SOLDIER BOY – ELVIS PRESLEY

As one turns to Side Two and places the needle on the record with expectations to hear a great rock ‘n’ roll song, the listener gets instead a Fifties ballad called “Soldier Boy” a song obviously chosen because of its theme. This “Soldier Boy” is not the classic song recorded by the Shirelles in 1962. Instead, it’s a typical Fifties ballad complete with staccato piano playing indicative of the period.

SUCH A NIGHT – ELVIS PRESLEY

Finally, after five so-so songs, Elvis sings a decent tune, played with tight, catchy musicianship by “The Nashville A-Team”. Just by Presley’s delivery along with the whole bouncy feel of it, you can tell he also is happy to be singing it. Although it was another remake, originally recorded by Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters in 1953, it’s a worthy song sung with happy playfulness and improved upon by Elvis.


IT FEELS SO RIGHT – ELVIS PRESLEY

The following track is a blues number written by Fred Wise and Ben Weisman, the latter of which holds the record for having written more songs for Elvis than any other songwriter. Elvis used to call Weisman “The Mad Professor” because of his non-rock and roll, professorial style and his “mad” ability to write music. Weisman recalls the last time he ever saw the King.

“Elvis invited me to come to one of those wild parties, you know, the last evening of the season in crazy Vegas. I went upstairs and Elvis grabbed me, stood me up in front of the crowd and announced, ‘I want you all to meet Ben Weisman. The man who has written more songs for me than any other writer – 57! I want to hear it for this man.’ There was a big applause, then he took me over to the piano. It was just me and him. Elvis wasn’t looking too good. His eyes were puffy and he’d gotten very, very heavy. He said to me, ‘Ben, there’s a song I love called ‘Softly As I Leave You’. Indeed, I knew it well, one of those ballads that just about everyone had a crack at in the Sixties. After he sang his heart out Elvis said, ‘This is not a song about a man who’s leaving his girlfriend. It’s a song about a man who is going to die.’ I didn’t know what to say, but I knew there was trouble coming. As Elvis held my arm, I could feel his hand shaking. It made me feel as though mine was shaking, too. And that was the last time I saw him.” –Ben Weisman

“It Feels So Right” was included in the soundtrack of a 1965 Elvis movie called “Tickle Me”. It was the least expensive movie Elvis had ever made, and he made it specifically to pay the IRS for back taxes he owed. The film made $5 million in the box office ($37.6 million in 2015 dollars), a tidy sum during an era when Hollywood wasn’t used yet to making obscene amounts of money with every big star release. It was a typical Elvis romp, except that this time he won a Laurel award for Best Male Actor in a Musical Film. Besides being on “Elvis Is Back!”, “It Feels So Right” was released five years later in 1965 as a B-side single. The composition was not a copy of anything that had been written before. At the same time, one wants to like it just on the fact that it’s different and an original, written specifically for him, but the song falls short. Not even the King could fill his own shoes anymore. Ben Weisman recalls what it was like to write for Presley.

“I approached writing for Elvis differently than I did for any other artist. Elvis challenged my imagination. The songs had to have a combination of blues, country, rock and pop, sometimes gospel or swamp boogie, you name it. I lived my creative life walking in his musical shoes. And what shoes they were! Elvis had so much spirit. Beyond compare really. Elvis was a transformer, a rebel, like a meteorite, someone who only comes along once every few hundred years. He had that level of magnetism. Astonishing to be a part of it! And to write for him, to try and express what I knew his was going through as a man, throughout that whole journey. I feel very lucky.” – Ben Weisman

GIRL NEXT DOOR WENT A-WALKIN’ – ELVIS PRESLEY

Track 4 on Side 2, “The Girl Next Door Went A–Walkin’” was making the second side of the album shape up into something more enjoyable than the first. Easily one of the best tracks on the album along with “Fever” and “Such A Night”, it was written by Bill Rice and Thomas Wayne and originally recorded by Wayne, then released in 1959 through Elvis’ guitarist Scotty Moore’s short-lived record label, Fernwood.

LIKE A BABY – ELVIS PRESLEY

“Like A Baby” was written by Jess Stone, songwriter of the Drifters’ first single in 1953, “Money Honey”, which Elvis also recorded for his eponymous debut album in 1956 and turned into a major rock ‘n’ roll classic. “Like A Baby” was a good old-fashioned blues song and it rounded out the two different styles Elvis loved to sing in one album. Only gospel was missing.

Percolating with a smoldering rhythm that Elvis caressed with his smooth delivery, it was a competent song, just not a classic tune.

James Brown also recorded it as a single with his Famous Flames in 1963, and one-upped Elvis in pure soul, although the Godfather of Soul always spoke highly of the King.

RECONSIDER BABY – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis closes “Elvis Is Back!” with a classic blues standard first recorded and written by Lowell Fulson in 1954, a Number Three R&B chart hit. “Reconsider Baby” is registered in the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. Besides Presley, it’s been recorded many times by artists such as Ike & Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Robin Trower and Gregg Allman among others. Elvis particularly liked the song as he had sung it during the Sun studio jam session back in December 1956 when he played with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins known as “The Million Dollar Quartet”.


Elvis goes for broke on this closer, backed by an amazing blues piano, pounding drums and wailing sax from the Nashville A-Team. It’s as though they poured their heart out on the last track.

The last two songs on the album gave a glimpse into Elvis’ love for the blues and that, along with a handful of other songs on the album, made it an acceptable, if a little disappointing return for Presley. Still, many critics, including Rolling Stone Magazine, hailed it as a rock ‘n’ roll classic.

 

THE FRANK SINATRA TIMEX SPECIAL – WELCOME HOME, ELVIS

The Establishment continued milking Presley’s return from the Army for all it was worth. On March 21, 1960, Elvis boarded a train headed for Miami. He stayed at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach for a week to rehearse and tape the show before a live audience for a later broadcast date. Those who tuned into the show were going to be quite disappointed.

Frank Sinatra had four specials lined up for national broadcast on the ABC television network in 1960. What better way to garner high ratings for one of them than to invite the world’s most popular star to welcome him home from the Army? It was The Establishment’s way of accepting Elvis into their world… but on their own terms.

Sinatra’s specials were all sponsored by Timex, a watch company that was promoting their newest invention: the waterproof watch. Its spokesperson was news commentator John Cameron Swayze (late actor Patrick Swayze’s father) and his Timex commercials became legendary. In each commercial, Swayze would find another ludicrous way to prove that the Timex waterproof watch can “take a lickin’ but keep on tickin’” as their slogan went.

During the entire hour, there were only two commercial breaks, something that would be unthinkable today. Aside from those four minutes of sponsored nonsense, Sinatra’s special was made up of further corny, Fifties-style mindless entertainment with very few moments of legitimate cool. Elvis was on for a total of eight minutes and didn’t really come on to say or do anything until thirty-six minutes into the show.

The special begins with Ol’ Blue Eyes coming out to sing “It’s Very Nice To Go Travelin’”, Soon, his daughter Nancy joins him, then Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis, Jr. and finally Elvis is introduced in Army uniform. After peals of excited screaming and a joke about his lack of sideburns, Elvis sings a stanza from the “Travelin’” song, and is then swiftly escorted away by Nancy Sinatra and would not be seen for most of the remainder of the show.

After a few songs from Sinatra, including the classic “Witchcraft” and other tedious bits from his guest stars, every teenager in America was probably rolling their collective eyes. Finally, thirty-six minutes into the 60-minute show, Sinatra introduces the King. The audience erupts once again in deafening squeals and Elvis comes out in a tux to sing the B-side of his latest hit, “Fame and Fortune”, a totally boring and perfectly acceptable song for the Establishment to approve. The teenage audience quiets down during the number simply because this isn’t the Elvis they know and love, but the squealing returns when Elvis sings his next song and the second and only other highlight of the show, “Stuck On You”. Finally, during those brief two and a half minutes, Elvis is permitted to be himself, much to the audience’s delight. But as soon as he’s done, Sinatra and Bishop come out to ruin the rest of Elvis’ appearance with more dumb scripted dialogue and a duet in which Ol’ Blue Eyes and the King sing each other’s songs. Elvis sings “Witchcraft”, alternating stanzas with Sinatra singing “Love Me Tender”, the only song Frank can probably handle at the time from the Elvis repertoire.

After another Timex commercial and the only other two minute commercial break in the hour, Nancy Sinatra comes out to replace Elvis and sing a lyrically different version of “You Make Me Feel So Young” with her father, and every teenager in the country is wondering where Elvis went off to. Just as the song ends and everyone hopes Elvis will return, Nancy Sinatra then does a dance number with the Tom Hansen Dancers. And that’s the show.

Frank ends it with him singing his thank you’s to everyone, including Elvis, who you get to see for another five seconds.

The show earned a 41.5 rating, which translated to 67.7% of the audience watching television at that moment were tuned into the show. Elvis was paid $125,000 (just under $1 million in 2015 dollars), an unprecedented amount at the time. Even Sinatra was grumbling about it because not even he was getting that much and it was his show. It was Col. Parker who insisted that Elvis sing only two songs for that price and for his appearance with Sinatra in the first place, in order to introduce Presley to an older market upon his return from the military.

Ed Sullivan criticized the Colonel’s large request of a payday for such little output.

“Col. Tom, using the logic of a farmer, is a firm believer in not giving a hungry horse a bale of hay”. – Ed Sullivan

In retrospect, keeping Elvis above it all probably did help his icon status, but it did no justice to his fans who wanted the pre-Army Elvis back, but Elvis did everything the fatherly Colonel said. When asked who his favorite singers were, Presley lied through his teeth and named Sinatra, Dean Martin and Patti Page. Please. Frank Sinatra on the other hand, already knew the fine art of hypocrisy and bit his tongue, smiling throughout as if he really loved rock ‘n’ roll.

“(Rock & Roll is) sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons and by means of its almost imbecilic reiterations and sly, lewd—in plain fact, dirty—lyrics, and as I said before, it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth … this rancid-smelling aphrodisiac I deplore.” – Frank Sinatra, 1957

“He has a right to his opinion, but I can’t see him knocking it for no good reason. I admire him as a performer and an actor but I think he’s badly mistaken about this. If I remember correctly, he was also part of a trend. I don’t see how he can call the youth of today immoral and delinquent.” – Elvis Presley upon hearing Sinatra’s comments, 1957

But on May 12, 1960, they were the best of chums. Their comments were a little nicer during their press conference before the show aired, although Sinatra still treated him like an outsider. In retrospect, Elvis should have stayed outside.

Only time will tell. They said I was a freak when I first hit, but I’m still around. Presley has no training at all. When he goes into something serious, a bigger kind of singing, we’ll find out if he is a singer. He has a natural, animalistic talent.” –Frank Sinatra, 1960

“I admire the man… He is a great success and a fine actor”. – Elvis Presley on Frank Sinatra, 1960

The only honest, albeit harsh, comment regarding the show came from a review of it in the New York Times.

“While he was in service, he lost his sideburns, drove a truck and apparently behaved in an acceptable military manner. But now he is free to perform in public again, as he did on last night’s “Frank Sinatra Show” over Channel 7… Although Elvis became a sergeant in the Army, as a singer he has never left the awkward squad. There was nothing morally reprehensible about his performance; it was merely awful.” – New York Times review.

Susan Doll, author of “Elvis For Dummies” astutely realized the good the special did to the Elvis persona, at the expense of his status of a rock ‘n’ roll star.

“(Elvis’ appearance on the show) clearly signaled that Elvis was courting a mainstream, adult audience… Appearing with Sinatra suggested that Elvis was following the same career path [as Sinatra] and was, therefore, the natural heir to the Voice”. – Susan Doll; “Elvis For Dummies”

Col. Tom Parker, therefore, with the unwitting aid of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll himself, was effectively taming the “animalistic talent” that made his sole client who he was.

IT’S NOW OR NEVER – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis began filming his next movie, “G.I. Blues” on May 2nd, 1960. He had also finished recording his next single “It’s Now Or Never”, which was actually “O Sole Mio” with English language lyrics. Not very rock ‘n’ roll.

Interestingly enough, the inspiration for “It’s Now Or Never” isn’t “O Sole Mio” but another song called “There’s No Tomorrow”, sung by Tony Martin and released in 1949. “There’s No Tomorrow” was, in 1960, the second best-selling single of all time, so there was a deliberate reason that Elvis had for choosing the melody as his next single, having heard it while he was stationed in Germany.

“(Elvis) told the idea to his music publisher, Freddy Bienstock, who was visiting him in Germany… Mr. Bienstock, who many times found songwriters for Presley, returned to his New York office, where he found Mr. [Aaron] Schroeder and Wally Gold, the only people in that day. The two wrote lyrics in half an hour. Selling more than 20 million records, the song became number one in countries all around and was Presley’s best-selling single ever… a song [they] finished in 20 minutes to a half hour was the biggest song of [their] career.” -According to the New York Times quoting from the 1986 book “Behind The Hits”

One thing you have to admit about his interpretation of “It’s Now Or Never”. He sings it beautifully, with a sincere passion and affection resonating with every utterance of the words and a thrilling ending where he belts out the last lines worthy of a song derived from Italian opera. Upon listening to it, one has to wonder if he was thinking of Priscilla when he recorded it. The production of the song is truly well done as well, especially the accompanying piano. For a non-rock ‘n’ roll song, Elvis should be lauded for an excellent recording. The single was another successful notch in his belt, climbing to the top spot on Billboard and, also beloved by his African-American fans despite it not being and R&B song, entering the R&B Top Ten at Number Seven.

In 1977, the 42nd and last year of the King’s life, Elvis recorded “It’s Now Or Never” live. His voice wasn’t as full as before but it was still powerful, although he slurred some of the words. His sideburns were back, but he looked puffy and overweight, although judging by his fans’ reaction, nobody cared; they still loved him. Still, it was a sorrowful sight to see such a beloved and uniquely handsome icon facing the last days of his life through drug abuse and overeating because… well, who would ever dare say no to Elvis?

On May 6, Elvis called the girl he left behind, Priscilla, in the first of a series of phone calls he’d be making to her over the ensuing year. During the conversation, he admitted to Priscilla that he felt like a fish out of water with the songs he was recording, complaining about the terrible quality of compositions he had been given to sing for the soundtrack to “G.I. Blues”, and mentioning that the final release of “It’s Now Or Never” was a different mix than the one he approved. The Colonel defends Elvis on this and demands that the song get remixed to Elvis’ standards, much to his fans’ benefit, because the resulting record is wonderful.

Despite all his rumblings and creative troubles, Presley was enjoying his superstardom, visiting Vegas on May 28 with his entourage, now dubbed by the press as “The Memphis Mafia”, a group of hangers-on and yes-men whom Elvis considered his friends. This sycophantic Memphis Mafia would dog, follow, grovel and live off the King for the rest of his life.

In the summer of 1960, Elvis wraps the filming of “G.I. Blues”. On July 28, he receives his first-degree black belt in karate, a newfound hobby he picked up while he was in the Army. He would incorporate karate moves during his tour of the 1970s. Another milestone that occurred during that summer was the marriage of his father Vernon to Davada “Dee” Stanley. Elvis was opposed to the marriage, still profoundly affected by the death of his mother two years earlier, and didn’t attend the wedding. Vernon just one month later gives up all legal claim to Elvis’ Graceland to make sure his second wife will never inherit it.

Instead of focusing on making good records, Elvis immediately jumped from “G.I. Blues” to the production of his next movie “Flaming Star”. Although he didn’t see it at the time, the deteriorating quality of his recordings that he was beginning to complain about was very much his own fault. His desire to be a movie star would never be advanced past B-movie material because of mediocre scripts that would always showcase Presley as the leading man, capitalizing on the moment, and not looking out for his future in serious movies. Many actors who were serious about their careers at times had to take a supporting role in a good movie (i.e. Frank Sinatra in “From Here To Eternity” (1953) a Best Picture Oscar winner in which Sinatra also won for Best Supporting Actor). Col. Parker would never hear of such a thing, insisting that his “boy” should be the star of all his films. The result was a lot of movie vehicles designed to make him the center of attention, get all the girls, win all the fights and sing songs so they could be packaged and sold to his faithful fans.

G.I BLUES, THE MOVIE – ELVIS PRESLEY

Now, the movie industry was next in line to exploit the fact that Elvis had been in the Army. “G.I. Blues” was a musical comedy that premiered on August 18, 1960, in Dallas, Texas and the following November throughout the rest of the USA. The movie was directed by Norman Taurog, the man responsible for most of those awful but profitable Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis films released in the 1950s.

“G.I. Blues” was the second highest grossing musical comedy in 1960, an era when musicals were pretty common, and the 14th highest grossing film of the year, making $4.3 million ($34.3 million in 2015 dollars) in an era in which Hollywood wasn’t as greedy as it is today. If an ‘A’ list star in 2015 (and Elvis was certainly an A-list star then) makes this paltry sum at the box office, the movie would be considered a big flop.

“G.I. Blues” became a blueprint for the typical Elvis movie, where he’s the hero who gets the girl and has a fistfight or two in between songs. He still wanted to make serious movies, though, and his next two films showcased him in dramatic roles with very little singing, but their box office revenue in comparison to his musicals was poor. So instead of giving him better quality scripts in supporting roles where Elvis could have grown as an actor, Col. Tom Parker convinced him to do only musical comedies because those made money. He wasn’t wrong, indeed, Elvis’ musical comedies always made a profit upon release, but the quality of many of the songs in the films didn’t always hold up or was even worthy of his talent.

A good example of the depths Elvis was beginning to plumb in his movies was showcased in a song called “Pocketful of Rainbows”. Elvis and lead actress Juliet Prowse are in a lift and Elvis starts to croon as Prowse keeps singing the word “rainbows” in a voice that is so over-produced, the voice is rendered indistinguishable as to whether it’s hers or not.

In another song called “Wooden Heart”, which amazingly was Number One in the UK for six weeks, Elvis sings to a wooden puppet, and in “Big Boots” he serenades a baby to sleep. One wonders what that little baby, now around 55 years old, must think when he sees this scene.


In “Didja Ever”, a very catchy song based on military reveille, Elvis sings with a huge American flag behind him.

The only melodies that come close to any semblance of the rock ‘n’ roll music he pioneered include the movie’s theme song “G.I. Blues”, composed in a military motif.

“Frankfort Special” is another one, the movie’s musical highlight, a song he plays on a train where he suddenly stands up and seems to perform an electric guitar solo on an acoustic.

“Shoppin’ Around” is a happy song that has a more jazzy feel than rock ‘n’ roll.

In defense of the film, if you’re looking for a filmed entertainment that requires absolutely no engagement, watch an Elvis movie. They’re harmless, innocent pieces of fluff where you know he’s always going to get the girl in the end. To the more discriminating viewer, the only saving grace of all Elvis movies is Elvis himself.

Lastly, but definitely not least, is his unique singing voice. Nobody had ever sounded like that before. His style was so new that people were offended by his unrestrained moves. The release of Elvis’ “King Creole” in 1959 caused a riot in a Mexico City theater, which ultimately led the Mexican government to ban any further Elvis movies from ever playing in the country.

G.I. BLUES, THE ALBUM – ELVIS PRESLEY

The original soundtrack album for “G.I. Blues” was released in October, one month before the movie’s national premiere to saturate the market with the songs so each tune can act as a promotion for the upcoming film. It took three years for the album to be certified Gold (reaching $1 million in U.S. sales) in 1963 and thirty-two years to be certified Platinum (moving one million units in the U.S.) in 1992.

Highlights of the album was a newly recorded version of Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes”. The reason for this song’s inclusion is due to a scene where a soldier, sick of listening to “Tulsa”(the name of the character Elvis played in the film) sing a ballad called “Doin’ The Best I Can”, walks up to a jukebox and plays “BSS” by an artist assumed to be the real Elvis. This scene ends up in a fistfight in which Elvis teaches a lesson to the offending audience member and a brawl breaks out with “Blue Suede Shoes” playing in the background. The two versions sound almost identical, except that the original recording has an urgency in Presley’s voice lacking in the remake, where he sounds just a bit more laid back. The two guitar solos are also different.

The following year, in 1961, the soundtrack to “G.I. Blues” was nominated for three Grammys; Best Soundtrack Album, Best Male Vocal Performance, and Best Written Musical, but didn’t win in any of these categories.

ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis Presley’s last single release of the year after “It’s Now Or Never” was “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, a song written by Lou Handman and Roy Turk in 1926. The original version, recorded by a singer named Charles Hart in 1927, is truly laughable in its old-fashioned style, especially when you hear Hart roll his “r’s”.

Elvis’ version has the same melody, but a whole section of lyrics was dropped and replaced with Elvis speaking prose instead of singing.

The whole spoken portion of the song exudes with corniness, so much so that even Elvis has made fun of the song, turning it from a maudlin love tune to a very funny one.

FLAMING STAR, THE FILM – ELVIS PRESLEY

In an attempt to pursue the serious dramatic acting career he wanted, Elvis played a “mixed-blood” character in a film that touched on racism by “Dirty Harry” (1971, Clint Eastwood’s hit police drama) Director Don Siegel. Co-starring the beautiful Barbara Eden of future “I Dream Of Jeannie” fame, Presley got good reviews for his performance but the movie made little money. This movie and his next serious role in 1961’s “Wild In The Country” gave his manager Col. Parker enough ammunition to convince Elvis that the public didn’t want to see him in any serious roles. It was an underhanded thing to do that Presley took to heart. Elvis could have continued being in serious movies until his audience grew. It’s not like he needed the money since every song he was releasing was turning to gold.

There was originally four songs slated to be on the movie soundtrack but Elvis insisted that two of them be removed as he was trying to distance his acting career from his recording career.

ELVIS BY REQUEST – FLAMING STAR ELVIS EP

“Flaming Star” was a Western back when the Western was the most popular genre in the movies. Horse operas started to become less popular in the late Sixties after “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Planet Of The Apes” both released in 1968, replaced the frontier cowboy with the space cowboy. The song “Flaming Star” had an upbeat Western feel with Elvis’ voice in fine form. The film’s theme of racism was reminiscent of the John Ford classic “The Searchers” (1955).

The title song, along with the only other song in the movie, “A Cane and a High Starched Collar”, as well as one of the two songs Elvis removed, “Summer Kisses, Winter Tears” were included in the EP (Extended Play – too large to be a single with four songs instead of two, and too small to be an LP).


His two most recent hits, “It’s Now Or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” were also added onto the EP to encourage sales. The album peaked at Number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. The fourth rejected song, “Britches” wouldn’t see the light of day until 1979 in a compilation LP called “Elvis: A Legendary Performer Volume 3”.

None of these songs were particularly notable, and Elvis once again would complain of the inferior quality of the song material he was given to sing in his movies.

“Flaming Star” was notable in that publicity stills from the movie were used by Andy Warhol years later to create silkscreens for some of Warhol’s works, one of them called “Double Elvis”.

As 1960 came to an end, Elvis completes his next serious movie “Wild In The Country” for a 1961 release, and calls Priscilla to ask if she could spend the Christmas holidays with him, inviting her family with her so that everything remain on the up and up since his future bride at the time was still only fifteen years old. It would be the second time Elvis would celebrate a Christmas without his beloved mother.

Advertisements